LIVE REVIEW: Mudcrutch at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium 4/14/2008
Apologies in advance for the gushing fan review, but oh, man, Monday night was special.
I just drove from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay, along the Cabrillo Highway. With a moon hovering over the deep blue Pacific, a mix CD of The Byrds, Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, Wilco, and Cat Power covering “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” helped 54 miles of coastal highway slipped away below my cruiser (maximize gas by cleaning out your trunk, making sure your tires have the right air, and driving a little slower!).
That would be good enough for any Monday night in California. Better than staying home to watch The Bachelor from Britain, that’s for damn sure. But wait, it gets better.
I just returned from the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, after witnessing the return of Mudcrutch to the stage for the first time in since the mid-1970s. To the uninformed, Mudcrutch is a Florida-borne country rock band formed by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Benmonth Tench, Tom Leadon, and Randall Marsh in the late 1960′s in the Gainesville, Florida bars and college parties. Between The Byrds were shifting their sound to Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Rolling Stone’s “Country Honk,” Gram Parsons going up in a ball of fire in the Joshua Tree desert, and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, Petty and Co. were working on their own brand of country rock sound. Mudcrutch chased the dream out to Hollywood with a minor record deal, but a few singles were unsuccessful and the band broke up. Leadon and Marsh returned to Florida; Petty, Campbell and Tench would reform as the Heartbreakers. Maybe you saw them play the Super Bowl earlier this year (the game wasn’t bad, either).
Some 35 years after Mudcrutch disbanded, they reformed late last year to record a new album of new songs and covers of their era. The album comes out April 29 and it is destined to be an instant classic rock classic. The material showcases all the best of the Heartbreakers rock ‘n’ roll skills, and adds some exciting new genre explorationâ€”bluegrass, country, folk. It sounds as if it could be the best album of 1968, a band you’d definitely want to see when they rolled through one of Bill Graham’s venues.
Now, in the ineterest of full disclosure, I should make it clear that I’m a bit of a Petty geek, a hybrid of dedicated Deadhead concertgoer combined with searching for the back catalog on vinyl Star Wars completist. I’ve seen the Heartbreakers around 30 times since the late 1980s, when Petty was enjoying a series of massively successful side projectsâ€”his “solo” album, Full Moon Fever and his beloved Traveling Wilburys collaborations with Dylan, Orbison, Harrison, and Lynne. I’ve seen lots of large venue shows (Greek Theater, Hollywood Bowl, Reno/Sacramento/Concord, etc), caught a few of those famed Fillmore shows, and a couple of very special club shows at the late, great Sweetwater Saloon in Mill Valley by Campbell’s bar band The Dirty Knobs.
So when I heard that Mudcrutch would play a general admission show as the first night of its new tour on a Monday night in Santa Cruz, followed by a Wednesday/Thursday at the Fillmore in San Francisco, I knew immediately what to do with some vacation days.
Actually, the band added a Malibu show last Saturday, as a benefit for a homeless shelter, so Santa Cruz was the second show. All tickets needed to be picked up at will call for the general admission venue. I pulled into Santa Cruz around 6:30, and drove past the Civic. I was kinda freaked out by the line of concertgoers camped out, but having seen a few shows at this venue, I knew I could at least work my way in on the floor somewhere.
I went to my favorite diner and ordered this great waffle special for dinner. Oh, once I was in Santa Cruz to see a Gary Louris-Mark Olson of the Jayhawks concert at the Rio Theater, and the next morning I was at the counter of this same diner and Gary Louris came in and sat right down next to me. I got to sit there drinking coffee with him and hear these great stories about the Dixie Chicks album he had just finished writing songs for (the one that ended up winning a ton of Grammys). That was awesome.
I should get to the Mudcrutch review. Sorry. It was beyond great. It was spiritual. It was one of the most exciting, joyful concerts I’ve ever experienced.
Amazingly, I was able to easily secure a great seat in the Civic, which is like a big high school gymnasium with great acousticsâ€”a wood dance floor surrounded by raised sections 10 rows deep. It’s intimate, but big enough to get a real rowdy loud crowd. I think the show was sold out, but there was a ton of room open on the floor. It looked like the floor was only 2/3 full.
The band came out at 8:15ish and looked tickled pink to be there. They busted out “Shady Grove,” a bluegrass ballad that goes way back. Campbell and Leadon immediately showed off a terrific dual guitar and Leadon and Petty traded vocals. The song sounded great and the audience was just bouncing off the walls.
“This is a trip!” Petty exclaimed, saying for the first or many times that he was having incredible fun with the Mudcrutch experiment. “You’re going to hear a lot of good ol’ hippie music tonight.”
He launched into a new song, “Orphan of the Storm,” a country shuffle that would have made Gram Parsons proud. Mudcrutch then ripped through Dave Dudley’s trucker classic, “Six Days on the Road” with delight. Petty, a fantastic rhythm guitar player with the Heartbreakers, is playing bass with Mudcrutch with Leadon playing rhythm guitar and trading leads with Campbell. The guitar tandem was reminiscent of Neil Young and Stephen Stills, and was just awesome, all night. Many of the new songs allow the masterful Campbell longer jams than the tighter pop songs of the Heartbreakers.
After “Scare Easy” another new song that’s getting radio airplay, Petty said, “here’s one we used to do in 1970, and we’re going to try and do it now,” and went running through the thin, wild mercury sound of Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine),” a gem off Blonde on Blonde. After this, I had to get up from my seat to go to the floor because these three knuckleheads in front of me were too full of beer and would not stop talking to each other during the music and then would just scream, “Petty!” at random. That has happened at too many Heartbreakers shows over the years, the worst occasion being the Paso Robles Mid State Fair a few years ago. Drunk and dumb, unfortunately, sticks to great rock ‘n’ roll like a leach sometimes.
Fortunately, It was easy to wander through the crowd to about 15 feet from the stage, between Tench, Campbell, and Petty. The energy was 20 times better up close and I stayed put for the rest of the show.
Next was Tench’s “This is a Good Street,” a great little number with a bit of “Positively Fourth Street” kiss off to it. Then a cover of Roger McGuinn/Jacques Levy’s “Lover of the Bayou” (originally recorded by The Byrds) with Campbell just shredding on guitar. Then Leadon talked briefly about early gigs at a Florida topless bar named Dub’s that the teenage version of Mudcrutch would play back in the day before singing his 1972 composition, “Queen of the Go-Go Girls.” Nice stuff.
Leadon led the band introductions with some very endearing thanks to Tom for putting the project together. Rousing ovations for all, with Tom humbly waving at a tidal wave of audience love at his intro. Then onto some great new material. Having seen so many Heartbreakers shows at big venues, to big crowds who get to hear “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’” at every show, it was a major treat to get to hear new songs like “Oh Maria” and “Topanga Cowgirl” for the first time. Campbell’s inventive guitar blasts highlighted his song “Bootleg Flyer” as well as “The Wrong Thing To Do.” Tench, Campbell, and Leadon were brilliant on the instrumental “June Apple.”
introduced a fantastic new cowboy song called “House of Stone.” Dwight Yoakam would cover this one proud, and it was great to hear Tom stretching as a songwriter and lyricist. His mid ’90s work with Johnny Cash channeled strongly into this number. Leadon’s cover of an old Bill Monroe folk song led to “Crystal River,” one of the evening’s highest points. It’s the spiritual child of “Like a Diamond” and “It’s Good to Be King,” with Jerry Garcia floating Mike’s solos. It’s a long song and a total stunner. The buzz was still lingering when the band launched into to main set closer, another Blonde on Blonde barnburner, “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.” TP’s version at the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary concert is a definitive version, as good as this song getsâ€”unless you’re in the pit at the Santa Cruz Civic, with a cloud of instant ganga karma gusting at the stage. The singlalong factor was off the hook.
A quick break led to two encore songs. The first was a smoking version of “Summertime Blues,” perhaps my favorite song of the night. Mudcrutch finished the magical night with Jerry Lee Lewis’s “High School Confidential,” just tapping into the most joyful place in the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.
I can’t wait to see them again at The Fillmore on Wednesday, to hear “Crystal River” and “Oh Maria” again. To see and hear it all one more time. If you’ve got tickets, you’re in for a treat, I imagine the covers will rotate a bit each night.
The Set List:
Orphan of the Storm
Six Days on the Road
Most Like You’ll Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine)
This is a Good Street
Lover of the Bayou
Queen of the Go Go Girls
The Wrong Thing To Do
House of Stone
Bill Monroe song, Love Please Come Home
Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
High School Hop
- Review submitted by Peter Crooks.